Eco-pollution: Israel’s silent threat

Posted on November 8, 2012 by

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Israel is advertised as one of the most environmentally conscious countries in the world. Perhaps most well known is the Israeli irrigation drip system, which involves a hose that slowly drips water directly to the root of the plant, strategically improving efficiency. Even more dramatic is the Project Better Place, a company currently planning to create electric car charging stations across Israel, the most widespread alternative energy transportation system ever to be implemented. Most recently, Izhar Gafni invented a bicycle made solely out of cardboard.

But how green is Israel in reality? Unfortunately, not very green.

More Israelis die annually due to the effects of air pollution than from terrorist attacks and traffic incidents combined, according to a 2003 study done by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense. This rate has not wavered. Today, the second leading cause of death in Israel (after cancer) is heart disease, as reported by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 2008. Heart problems are inextricably linked to air pollution. Microscopic particles, often released into the air from industries, refineries, and power stations, will enter the blood stream when inhaled, causing an inflammatory response throughout the body, according to the American Heart Association. The resulting hypertension leads to heart attacks, heart failure, and strokes. In fact, a recent study published by the Tel Aviv University and the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa states that heart attack patients living in polluted areas in Israel are 43 percent more likely to have a repeat heart attack than cardiac patients living in less polluted areas.

It should be noted that a 2011 series of studies by the Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute of Science found that toxic materials transported by desert dust from Europe, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and North Africa are polluting Israeli air. However, this only emphasizes the need for global environmental action, not a blame game between nations.

Air pollution is the consequence of a growing population and increased consumption according to a modern, Westernized lifestyle. Such a lifestyle implies that a greater segment of the population is driving cars, that there is a greater need for electricity, and that industrial outputs are rising. According to the Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection, emission levels of all types of air pollutants are increasing, the three greatest culprits of pollution being transportation, industry, and energy production.

This may be a standard trend for any “start-up” nation, but that cannot be an excuse, especially given the dramatic, negative health consequences. The Israeli government is not taking as strong of a stand against environmental pollution as it should. This is particularly unwise for Israel, because energy independence would allow Israel to be more politically independent as well. Despite the presence of natural gas as a great domestic resource, the government has supported policies to export it, resulting in a greater dependency on dirty oil at home. The government also limits the amount of electricity that the main company (the Israel Electric Corporation) may produce. Attempts to organize renewable energy projects are often hindered by the bureaucratic obstacles in place, according to an article published by Haaretz in September 2012.

Progress is being made, albeit slowly. In 2009, the Israeli Environmental Protection Ministry formed an emissions reduction plan that set its goal at five percent of renewable energy by 2014, and ten percent by 2020. In mid-2012, renewable energy stood at a mere 0.44 percent. The plan is looking increasingly unfeasible.

But what about solar energy? Don’t most Israelis have solar-powered water heaters? Yes, Israel has developed environmental technology, but the government is not motivated to implement such technology in its own backyard, instead exporting much of its innovations. Compared to other countries leading in similar technology, Israel is lagging behind in alternative energy usage. Germany, for example, has nearly half as many sunlight hours per day as Israel, yet it produces about ten percent more solar energy than Israel does. Unlike Israel, the German government has an incredibly generous subsidy policy for eco-technology, especially photovoltaic panels. Israel should follow suit in encouraging renewable technology usage. Its relatively small population size means it would require less investment to create sustainable energy sources.

Ultimately, progress comes down to the individual. Public awareness is necessary in creating grass-roots change. A 2009 study conducted at Ben Gurion University revealed climate change to be an issue of relatively low importance for the general public. This is where education and governmental action is key. Global warming is not an abstract phenomenon, but something that directly affects citizens of every nation. In order to repair the world, each of us must be conscious of our energy consumption and the effects our individual choices have on society as a whole.

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